Ringing in the new year wasn’t the only thing that NFL fans had to celebrate last weekend, as the league’s elite battled it out in pursuit of the final few playoff spots. In a week that saw both the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers secure the number one seed in their respective conferences, we Decyfr six of Week 17’s best match-ups.
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) January 1, 2024
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys
Final Score: 19 – 20
New Year’s Eve saw two of the NFC’s top seeds go down to the wire in an eagerly awaited prime time match-up. From the very start of the contest, both teams put on a defensive masterclass – forcing two turnovers apiece in a surprisingly low-scoring game. Both quarterbacks did manage to move the chains through the air, however, with Dak Prescott throwing for 345 yards and Jared Goff for 271. Cowboys star wide receiver CeeDee Lamb was undoubtedly the most significant player for America’s team, with a staggering 227 receiving yards, including a 92-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. With 23 seconds left in the game, the Lions scored to make it 20-19, but instead of kicking a game-tying PAT, the Lions attempted to win the game with a two-point conversion. Despite converting, a controversial penalty for illegal touching saw the two points taken off the board – giving Dallas their 11th win of the season atop the NFC East. With the loss, the Lions now drop to 11-5 and hold the third seed moving into Week 18.
Player of the Game: CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys.
Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles
Final Score: 35 – 31
Despite a hot start for the Philadelphia Eagles, with two touchdowns from seven-time pro-bowl wide receiver Julio Jones, Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon was able to lead the now 4-12 Cardinals to an astonishing comeback against his former team. With the game tied at 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter, a touchdown and field goal gave the Eagles a late lead. Then, with time running out, Kyler Murray led the Cardinals on a game-winning drive that ended with a touchdown from running back James Conner – adding to his receiving touchdown and 128 yards on the ground. For Arizona, the result is somewhat bittersweet, as the win ensured that they will miss out on the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft. Following the loss, and a Dallas Cowboys victory, the Eagles’ hopes of winning the NFC East continue to fall as they slip to 11-5.
Player of the Game: James Conner, Running Back, Arizona Cardinals.
Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens
Final Score: 19 – 56
In a battle for the AFC’s number one seed, the Baltimore Ravens – led by MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson – took on the Miami Dolphins. Despite Miami’s lightning-fast offense starting strong, putting up six points on their opening drive, they quickly stalled – with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa turning the ball over twice. The Ravens immediately capitalised on the Dolphins’ errors – scoring four touchdowns before the break. Baltimore carried that momentum into the second half on both sides of the ball – recording an early touchdown offensively and an interception from their defense. Although Miami did manage to score one further touchdown it wasn’t enough to deter Lamar Jackson, who ended the day with five passing touchdowns and 356 total yards. For the Ravens, they secure the number one seed in the AFC, earning a bye for the first week of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Dolphins risk losing the AFC East title, and the number two seed, to the Buffalo Bills in a prime time match-up next week.
Player of the Game: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens.
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) January 2, 2024
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Seattle Seahawks
Final Score: 30 – 23
Chasing the seventh seed in their respective conferences, both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks had impressive offensive outings in their clash at Lumen Field. The Steelers found success running the ball – with running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren recording a combined 197 rushing yards for three touchdowns. Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph also put on a solid performance – throwing for 274 yards and maintaining his well-established connection with wide receiver George Pickens. For the Seahawks, despite rushing for 5.9 yards per carry, their offense clearly preferred to air it out as quarterback Geno Smith threw for 290 yards compared to running back Kenneth Walker’s 53 yards rushing. Having said that, the Steelers defense dominated Seattle’s red zone offense during the second half, holding the Seahawks to three field goals before running out the clock to secure the win and improve to 9-7 – giving head coach Mike Tomlin his 17th-straight non-losing season. For the Seahawks, however, the loss sees them drop to 8-8, with their playoff chances now dwindling.
Player of the Game: Najee Harris, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs
Final Score: 17 – 25
With the AFC West division title on the line, the Kansas City Chiefs played host to the Cincinnati Bengals in a rematch of the 2022 AFC Championship. Taking a 17-7 lead, Cincinnati got off to a strong start with Bengals backup quarterback Jake Browning spreading the ball to nine different receivers. From that point onwards, however, the Bengals offense struggled immensely – being shut out for the rest of the game by the Chiefs defense. Big plays from Kansas City, both through the air and on the ground, helped the Chiefs overcome the deficit. That said, the Bengals ‘bend but don’t break’ approach defensively did stifle the Chiefs in the red zone, with Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker scoring six unanswered field goals. Despite converting on fourth and 18, Jake Browning and the Cincinnati offense could not tie the game on their final drive – giving the reigning Super Bowl champions their eighth-straight AFC West title and a playoff spot. For the 8-8 Bengals, their playoff hopes are dashed as they are officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Player of the Game: Isiah Pacheco, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs.
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) January 1, 2024
Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
Final Score: 33 – 10
With both teams desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive, the match-up between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings was expected to be a closely contested affair. However, the Packers made sure that wasn’t the case – dominating the Vikings across all three phases. The Vikings offense, with Nick Mullens starting at quarterback, couldn’t move the ball all game – with the Packers holding them to only 211 total yards while forcing two turnovers. On the other side of the ball, running back Aaron Jones was electric for Green Bay – rushing for 120 yards – while quarterback Jordan Love threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns in one of his strongest performances to date. After the loss, the Vikings’ playoff chances are slim to none – sitting at 4% heading into Week 18. The Packers, on the other hand, move into the seventh seed and can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Chicago Bears.
Player of the Game: Jordan Love, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers.
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